Cue the Real Housewives theme music. Pan down to the Southern California coastline. Cut to 5 bodacious women holding oranges. This is the original “OC”. Or at least that’s what Bravo wants you to believe. The Real OC (no, not the Lauren Conrad led MTV-reality drama either) is actually much more diverse and cultural than the Hollywood version. To cut through the OC’s diamond encrusted blonde-bombshell image, look no further than some of the best restaurants in Orange County.
Restaurants of every star, dietary practice (vegan, gluten-free, etc.) and ethnicity line the streets of the OC. With its deep Hispanic roots, it’s no wonder Mexican restaurants are more popular than Vicki and Tamra’s famous feuds on the “Housewives”. The restaurants we frequent are definitely more authentic than their scripted catfights. One of the most genuine, and in our opinion best, restaurants in Orange County is Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen located in Old Towne Orange.
Honor Heritage at one of the Best Restaurants in Orange County
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen is undeniably true to its heritage. Veiled in secrecy with no marquee announcing its presence, Gabbi’s lets the food speak for itself. And speak, it does. The menu reads like a classic Mexican cookbook. Empanadas, gorditas, al pastor, enchiladas, and pozole grace the menu in contemporary recipes. The ingredients are intriguing, unique and as fresh as they sound. Chef Gabbi Patrick’s focus on colonial ingredients is one reason why it gets our vote for one of the best restaurants in Orange County.
Pick up a fork and learn about 5 traditional ingredients honored on Gabbi’s menu.
Huitlacoche, or Mexican truffle, is a delicacy that the Aztecs discovered and used for tamales and stews. It is fungus that grows around the ears of corn usually sprouting after rain. The earthy flavor is similar to mushrooms. Thought some areas of the world consider it a “disease”, Mexican and Native farmers treat the “corn smut” as a delicious treat. Chef Gabbi honors the history, tradition and flavor of huitlacoche in Tlacoyo de Huitlacoche. The dish combines huitlacoche, shitake mushrooms, and a grilled tomatillo sauce wrapped in flaky masa cake.
Look up “comfort food” in the dictionary and you see a steaming hot bowl of pozole. Dating back to pre-Hispanic Mexico, the stew is a bowl full of heart and ceremony. The heart of pozole is hominy, dried corn soaked in a mineral bath. This process not only removes the outer layer of the corn, it fluffs, making it soft (and delicious). The ceremony of pozole is the plate of accoutrements alongside the soup. Add cabbage, oregano, onions, chile, and lime create flavors that suit the palate of the consumer. Chef Gabbi serves a stunning seafood nod to tradition in her Pozole Verde. It’s a delightful soup made from barramundi, clams, shrimp, hominy, radish and arugula.
For over 300 years mole has been a signature dish in Mexican culture. As lore tells it, mole was accidentally discovered by nuns in a rush to make a feast for a visiting archbishop. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t alter the historical significance of the sauce. Mole takes much time to prepare, and due to its richness of flavors was traditionally served for parties and celebrations. In Chef Gabbi’s delicious Mole Coloradito, she expertly joins Jidori stuffed chicken, poblano peppers, Oaxacan cheese, crema, and a plantain empanada.
Every culture has its own unique specialty desserts. In Hispanic culture, it’s the churro, a donut-like pastry sprinkled heavy-handedly with cinnamon sugar. Believed to have been first made by Spanish shepherds seeking baked goods while high up in the mountains. The doughy delights were pan fried and easy for the shepherds to make while they tended their flocks. Like all good things, the deliciousness of the churro couldn’t be contained to one continent. Word and recipes spread to South America and soon parts of North America, specifically Mexico. Now a dessert staple worldwide, Chef Gabbi adds the sweet treat to her traditional menu. Her Churros are served with a rich chocolate sauce and cajeta Mexican coffee.
Is there a spirit more indicative of Mexico than tequila? We don’t think so. And Gabbi’s honestly authentic cocktail menu doesn’t disappoint. From the Oaxaca-Groni to Red Sangria, there is no shortage of cultural influence. One of the tequila-based drinks that captures the heart of Mexico is the La Paloma. It’s a bright combination of Azuñia Blanco organic tequila, grapefruit, house-made grapefruit-thyme shrub, honey, and fleur de sel. And for the ultimate in traditional tequila cocktails, Chef Gabbi offers the Skinny Organic Margarita. This margarita is simple and pure, with Azuñia Blanco organic tequila, agave nectar and lime. That’s it.
Where to Buy
Let’s face it; reality shows aren’t really that real. To truly understand a city, you must visit it so you can see it, hear it, touch it, and of course, taste it. Come on and try one of the best restaurants in Orange County. Maybe you live in the Big D, not the OC, so getting to Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen isn’t easy. Click the dial on our “Where To Buy” page to find out where you can tune in to Azuñia near you.